Prominent anti-lockdown sceptic and former supreme court justice Jonathan Sumption has been criticised after he told a stage 4 cancer sufferer that her life was “less valuable” during a televised discussion of the costs of coronavirus lockdowns.
Appearing on the BBC One show The Big Questions on Sunday to discuss the question of whether lockdown was “punishing too many for the greater good”, Lord Sumption, said he did not accept that “all lives are of equal value”.
He said he believed his children’s and grandchildren’s lives were “worth more because they’ve got a lot more of it ahead”.
Responding to Sumption’s remarks, Deborah James, who has stage 4 metastatic bowel cancer and hosts the BBC’s You, Me and the Big C podcast, said: “With all due respect, I am the person who you say their life is not valuable.”
The peer then interrupted James, saying: “I didn’t say your life was not valuable, I said it was less valuable.”
Deborah(stage 4 bowel cancer) Lord Sumption, I’m the person that you say whose life is not valuable.— Haggis_UK ?? ?? (@Haggis_UK) January 17, 2021
Lord Sumption – “I didn’t say it wasn’t valuable, I said it was less valuable” ?#bbctbq pic.twitter.com/OsOsO4dfOp
Who are you to put a value on life?
James continued: “Who are you to put a value on life? In my view, and I think in many others, life is sacred and I don’t think we should make those judgment calls. All life is worth saving regardless of what life it is people are living.
“I’m fully aware and I’ve seen first-hand and said goodbye to best friends in terms of the collateral Covid is causing, but at the same time I’m incredibly grateful to be somebody who is kept alive because of the NHS.”
During the programme, Sumption argued that only the “old and vulnerable” should isolate. He was challenged on this point by the host Nicky Campbell, who questioned whether his solution wasn’t “utterly simplistic” as vulnerability includes a broad spectrum of people and people of all ages interact in society.
Sumption also claimed that government action had “virtually no impact” on mortality rates – a point rebuffed by Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, who described it as “plain wrong”. Semple also underlined that “the value of life doesn’t change at the age of 70”.
Several people on social media have condemned the comments, with Louise Cave saying she will “never understand how people like Lord Sumption lose all compassion for others.”
Dr Louise Raw simply wrote “this is eugenics” while Matthew Payne called the peer “grossly insensitive”.
Today on BBC1, Lord Sumption said to a woman with stage 4 cancer:— Francesca Martinez (@chessmartinez) January 17, 2021
‘I didn’t say your life wasn’t valuable, I said it was less valuable.’
I’ve faced this nonsense all my life – that a person is less worthy if they are physically ‘deficient’.
Well, Sumption is morally deficient.
Lord Sumption later claimed that his comments had been misinterpreted, saying: “I object extremely strongly to any suggestion that I was inferring that Miss James’s life was less valuable because she had cancer.
“I thought she was responding to my earlier comments about older people being protected by a total lockdown which is causing immense harm to the young who are unaffected.
“That harm can be to their mental health or through cooping undergraduates up at university or through the loss of jobs. I was saying this should not be inflicted on the young to protect old people like me.
“If Miss James has misinterpreted that then I can only apologise to her as it was not my intention to suggest she was less valuable. Sometimes on videolinks it can be difficult to hear what the other person is saying.”